Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Towards Boston and 40

June 5, 2011

The sky was overcast but the rain delayed its downpour until after the bus departed.

Once again I found myself on the Bolt Bus to Boston – aisle seat number 35 on a packed-to-capacity bus. I was hoping to get lucky enough to have a seat to myself. Lucky stayed off the bus this time ‘cause there weren’t enough seats. I found myself sharing space, and air, with a nice enough man (of Indian decent) in dire need of deodorant. Thankfully it was an express bus.

One of the things I hate the most about traveling via bus or train is the cell phone and ipod usage. When I travel on Amtrak I always choose the quiet car to avoid the hazards over-chatty passengers and one-sided conversations. On a bus, however, there is no quiet car –we’re all just sitting side by side in a single compartment made of metal, rolling at high speed down the road on rubber tires. Thankfully, Robert, our bus driver, alerted the cabin’s occupants to place all cell phones on vibrate. "If you don't know how to turn your phone on vibrate, press the volume button all the way down until the phone vibrates." Loved him already. He went a step further and asked that all DVD players, ipods, and computers be used with headphones and that the volume be turned low. I wondered if it would be odd to ask for his address so I could send him a "thank you" note.

Vacation had begun. I was merely waiting for the traffic to part like the red sea and let my Bolt Bus through.

I sat in my seat, breathing, releasing, smiling. Not even the gray sky was going to bring me down. I'm was on my way to Boston, to Neal's and from there on to a ferry that would take me to an island off the coast of Massachusetts. That's right people. I was on the first leg of a trip whose destination was Martha's Vineyard. I've never been and it seemed the perfect escape to celebrate turning 40 and for starting a new decade.

I think I've said this before, but the most difficult part of the Bolt Bus journey to Boston is getting out of Manhattan. It doesn't matter the time of day or day of the week. The bus sits in traffic. Traffic caused by so many people trying to get somewhere. What're you gonna do? You just sit and wait; inch forward a little and wait; watch people crossing in the crosswalks and wait, move a little for no apparent reason because the light is red and wait; listen to some idiot behind you who has already fallen asleep with his ipod too loud and wait; watch the street fair to the right of your bus and wait. Suddenly you're moving freely and watching all the beauty - people, greenery, buildings - through the window as you pass by.

I looked to my left and saw many cool restaurants that I immediately thought I'd like to patronize and just as quickly I realized I wouldn't remember where they were. Upper West Side is as good and I could do. Somewhere on Amsterdam in the 80's.

There was a moment when I found myself waiting next to the gorgeous greenery that is Central Park. What a phenomenal piece of land. I'm not sure if there is a better escape from the hectic pace of NYC (when you can’t leave it) than to just lose oneself in the middle of the park, find a place to sit and then just listen. You'll hear birds and the babbling of a brook as it empties into a pond. It's the most amazing experience. Of course I was sitting on a bus, but I was on a bus to somewhere, not nowhere, so I kept my focus on Boston.

Nearly an hour later we were just getting to 145th Street in Harlem. I'm always surprised by Harlem. You can always tell when you're there. And just like that we were across the Macombs Dam Bridge and streets once lined with unmoving vehicles gave way to the Major Deegan Expressway and the freedom of movement.

Did I say freedom of movement? I did, didn't I? Well, it was short lived. I was pretty sure that at our rate of speed this trip would not be one of those bus trips to Boston that arrived early.

Finally there was a thinning to the traffic - for real this time. I was skeptical, but sending all the positive energy I could muster out the front window and to the motorists in front of us to “keep on moving”. As I looked to my left I saw the parking lot of traffic, filled with cars full of people trying to reenter my lovely city. They were now the ones sitting and waiting. I was glad it wasn't me.

Time for a fear break – just a slight one. There had been a lot of bus accidents in the news as of late. One of those accidents had even happened in my home county. Now I know that I've made this trip via bus many times and at different times of the day and night. I felt safe, but my mind was working on an annoying little gray lint ball of fear. Any sudden slow down, jerky movement towards the shoulder of the road or honk made my heart race. At 6:24 pm we heard the sounds that reverberate through a vehicle when driving too close to the curb; that loud sound of caution alerting you to wake up or readjust back into the center of your lane. We were on the rumble strip. Imagine that sound vibrating through all of the tires on a bus. It made everyone look out the window. Turned out the bus driver had pulled off the Interstate on purpose. He needed to reset the electrical outlets. It was less than two minutes; the sound and the announcement had done wonders in waking all of the sleepers. For a while after that it was phone calls, conversations and the sound of texting.

The journey started gray in New York, but eventually we chased our way down the road to where sunshine shone bright in the sky. Then the day faded to gray again as the sun began to set. The difference this time was the gray of dusk still maintained a hint of blue sky. The rain was somewhere back on the Interstate.

Obviously the bus made it to Boston, albeit 25 minutes late (thank you traffic). As for my seatmate, it wasn't so bad as long as he sat still. Movement released that body odor that some find attractive, but made me want to throw him in a shower. He also played his ipod - on low, but still audible. I got used to it eventually. I was reading Dead Reckoning and managed to get lost in Bon Temps and the new adventure of Sookie Stackhouse.

Neal picked me up at the train station. We tried to have dinner at DBar but their kitchen had just closed. I mean - just. We headed over to the next parking lot and the drive through for some beefy, cheesy goodness with a side order of fried rings. That would be a Whopper with cheese and onion rings. The guilt I felt over eating that mess was quickly assuaged as my hunger pains curbed and my thoughts of vacation took over.

I hadn't seen Neal in quite a while so we had lots to chat about, not least that Neal had just returned from a week's vacation in Europe earlier that afternoon.

Fast-forward to dinner eaten, conversations complete, check lists checked and lights turned out. Neal was still on European time so he was exhausted. I was tired, but nothing seemed more inviting than wrapping up in my favorite duvet and reading another chapter of Dead Reckoning.

Sleep made my lids begin to droop so I let myself succumb as its wave took me to Dreamsville.